Youth have gained more attention within the peace and security frame in Africa, and have shown resilience despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also demonstrated innovation in their response to the pandemic to ameliorate the multiplier impacts on their communities. The link between health and peace and security has been amplified by the outbreak of the pandemic and youth play a central role in their respective spaces.
What does resilience mean within the COVID-19 context for youth? Is it the ability of a group or an individual to recover from or adjust to the disruption or damage caused by a chronic and unanticipated challenge, or is it perhaps the ability of young women and men to cope, adapt and reorganise? In this regard, mobilising adaptive measures can be categorised into two. Some respond to the pandemic as a threat to peace and security, while others respond directly to the pandemic as a health issue.
Youth have gained more attention within the peace and security frame in Africa, and have shown resilience despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemicTweet
Youth Activities during the Pandemic
African youths have always been, formally or informally, part of the continent’s response to peace and security challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted yet other positive and inherent characteristics of African youth that challenge the negative stereotype that they are synonymous with social disruption and are harbingers of violence.
On the premise that the pandemic has accentuated existing and new drivers of conflicts like unemployment, fake news and dis/misinformation the Local Youth Corner in Cameroon, (LOYOC), coordinated by Christian Achaleke, engaged prison inmates and young professionals towards the production and distribution of COVID-19 essentials. In Nigeria, the Almajiri Child Rights Initiative (ACRI), in partnership with the Universal Basic Education (UBE), began a reintegration programme for Almajiri (street) children in Northern Nigeria before the pandemic. ACRI took advantage of COVID-19 to upscale the repatriation of the children to their parents as well as to provide formal schooling and other vocational training opportunities. As a result, the organisation contributed to mitigating the spread of the pandemic while sticking to, and achieving, their primary goals of improving social inclusion of vulnerable children living on the streets across Northern Nigeria.
From a Kenyan perspective, the pandemic is “an act of injustice” in the way it accentuates and worsens the dire situation of those that are already extremely poor and vulnerable. It therefore provided an opportunity to enhance the agency of their voice. Instances of effective awareness and advocacy for rights, justice and equality were also seen in Southern Africa. Similar instance is seen in Egypt. This was not limited to civil and political rights as it also involved reproductive rights. Amidst the above, pockets of healthy intersection between youth and government were seen.
Across Africa, youth networks have stepped up to help; and in some cases, their modest efforts make a lot of qualitative difference for beneficiaries.Tweet
Contextualising youth resilience in the face of COVID-19
Clearly, the outbreak has brought to the fore the important roles that young people play in their communities as well as the challenges they face. These challenges include resource constraints – human, financial, technical; inadequate government support; and, limited societal trust in young people amongst others. Others include the risk of being infected with the disease and other health repercussions, including possible death, fake news and mis/disinformation, and shrinking civic spaces.
The pandemic may yet present the opportunity young people require to rethink and redefine their relationship with the state and their communities. Already, state responses in many parts of the continent have been roundly criticised for hindering, not acting quickly and doing enough to assist youths and vulnerable social groups. Across Africa, youth networks have stepped up to help; and in some cases, their modest efforts make a lot of qualitative difference for beneficiaries. Perhaps what they need to keep in mind and do is to be more strategic in drawing attention to and highlighting their roles and contributions or risk under-appreciation from power holders and gatekeepers of narratives accustomed to labelling them as ‘troublesome’ youth.
Accounting for the impact of COVID-19 on Africa without adequate cognisance of how it has affected youth, and the role and contributions of its young people who, in most countries, constitute an average of 60% of population, is incomplete. Youth have seized the opportunity, directly or otherwise, to showcase the positive, valuable and essential roles they play in society. What is perhaps more remarkable is that despite the commendable contributions of youth to peace and security and society generally, young peacebuilders are insisting, rightly, that they should be getting adequate support from their governments to enable them to do more. It can only be imagined what youth and their networks would be able to achieve if the environment were to be more conducive – from appropriate policies, laws and positive public mindsets towards them, together with the implementation of existing normative frameworks.
Golda Keng is a Consultant with the Institute for Security Studies in their Addis Ababa Office. Charles Ukeje is a Professor of International Relations in the Department of International Relations at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Rhuks Ako is a Senior Analyst in the Y4P programme of the AU-PSD.
This piece draws from an online conversation involving the participation of about 200 youth peacebuilders from across Africa. The event, which was held on the 9th and 16th of June 2020, was organised by AU-Y4P and UNESCO-IICBA and, with additional assistance from the GIZ AU-APSA Programme. It was titled ‘Mobilising Resilience during and after COVID-19: A peer-to-peer experience sharing among youth peacebuilders in Africa’.